Kiwi sailor reveals moment he was swept off his boat

Conrad Colman celebrates crossing the finish line of the Vendee Globe race. Photo / Conrad Colman.
Conrad Colman celebrates crossing the finish line of the Vendee Globe race. Photo / Conrad Colman.

On Saturday, Conrad Colman finished the Vendee Globe in 16th, a non-stop solo round the world yacht race.

On the face of it, that doesn't seem like a remarkable result, especially as the two front-runners finished a month earlier.

But Colman's race was nothing short of remarkable. Not only did he become the first Kiwi to complete the gruelling race but he also had a fire on board his IMOCA 60 which disabled his auto-piloting and saw his boat on its side, was knocked over again and the forestay, which holds up the mast, became detached after a pin failed in huge seas in the Southern Ocean with winds gusting up to 45 knots, and was down to his last set of sails for the last third of the race.

That is often enough to force some competitors to retire, and only 18 of the 29 starters are likely to finish. But worse was still to happen.

On February 10, only three days from the finish in Les Sables d'Olonne in France and in an impressive 10th place given the age of his boat, Colman's yacht was dismasted during a large storm.

Photo / Conrad Colman
Photo / Conrad Colman

Not to be deterred, the 33-year-old relied on his training as a sailmaker and rigger and set one of the most efficient jury rigs seen in the history of ocean racing with his boom and part of his mainsail and storm jib.

"The easy thing would have been to crawl into a hole with my tail between my legs, but I am just not wired that way," Colman was quoted as saying by the Times.

He made painfully slow progress to the finish line, all at a time when his rations ran out (he was down to his last survival biscuit), but finish he did. He became only the third competitor in eight editions of the race to complete the Vendee Globe under jury rig.
As the sailing world was marvelling at his resilience and achievement, Colman had one more surprise.

"I haven't told anyone this yet," he said at his press conference. "I fell overboard."

To an amazed audience, he described how, one night in the Southern Ocean, he had been on the boom rearranging the sail when the lazy jacks (ropes that assist in sail handling when reefing or unfurling) broke.

"In a split second, the boom dropped into the water, I had no time to grab onto anything and was dumped into the sea. Fortunately, I was hooked on leaving me trailing behind the boom," he said.

Listen:Newstalk ZB's Mark Watson talks to Conrad Colman

"I was too far away from the boat to get back on board, but eventually one of the waves swept me in sufficiently that I could grab hold of a stanchion. The trouble was that my harness was still clipped to the boom, preventing me from getting back aboard the boat.

"The only way to get back on board was to undo my harness, hang on to the stanchion with one arm and try to scramble back onto the boat. Fortunately I did it."

Photo / Conrad Colman
Photo / Conrad Colman

His wife, who had not heard the story, was dumfounded.

Far from being cavalier, safety is a huge consideration for Colman, especially as his father died when he fell from the mast of the family boat when sailing in Singapore. Colman was 11 months old at the time.

This was his third circumnavigation and he's already planning another assault on the Vendee Globe but with a much more competitive boat. A lot of that will come down to money and his story from the past 110 days will undoubtedly help him when courting potential sponsors.

Many, particularly non-sailors, labelled him insane for wanting to do the race in the first place - and he's often referred to as the Crazy Kiwi - but Colman has a number of reasons.

He became the first Vendee Globe skipper to complete the event using no fossil fuels, using instead solar and hydro-generated electricity stored in a bank of high-tech batteries.

"Growing up in New Zealand, I was aware of the hole in the ozone layer there," he said. "I converted to become a vegetarian, not especially because I care about cute lambs, but because I was more concerned about the global impact of the chain, of food production and consumption. And so the project is a reflection of my ideals."

Colman's journey to the finish line is now a reflection of him. And what a journey.

- NZ Herald

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